Interviewed by Wamara Mwine
Wamara Mwine: Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, was known for his crusades with followers through harsh conditions to achieve a spiritual connection with others. What experiences have you had that resembles Ignatius' journey?
Fr. Chijioke Azuawusiefe: St. Ignatius of Loyola lived in a different time. He led a remarkable military life as a soldier prior to his conversion experience following the Battle of Pamplona (1521) where a cannonball shattered his left leg. However, although some aspects of his Spiritual Exercises, like the “The Call of the Eternal King” (93), might have a crusading flavor to them, Ignatius never traveled as a soldier post his conversion.
That said, I do not have any experiences that approximate his soldiery background. Nevertheless, as a Jesuit and following in the way of the Spiritual Exercises (a foundational prayer and spirituality text for Jesuits and many Christians, which evolved from Ignatius’s own prayers, meditations, and reflections), I bring the energy and the grace of the Exercises to my life and encounters with people, seeking, as St Ignatius put it, “to find God in all things.”
Wamara Mwine: I had written extensively in my interview with Profiles in Catholicism about my life journey with discrimination, defamation and racism in society. Sadly, the Maryland Jesuits played a role in my demise. Is there any scenario where you think racism as a Jesuit can be tolerated?
Fr. Chijioke Azuawusiefe: I am not familiar with the demise experience you alluded to; but no, there is no scenario where I think that racism as a Jesuit can be tolerated. For that matter, there is no scenario where any form of racism should be tolerated.
Wamara Mwine: Here is a good question. Nigeria, where you are roots are, has gained a bad reputation as being the scam capital of the world. This is verified on social media and the web. What is your take on this international rumor? How has this global negative opinion of your country affected your social justice causes?
Fr. Chijioke Azuawusiefe: First of all, Nigeria has loads of brilliant and hardworking men and women who are contributing to the growth and development of humankind across the world. Nigerian doctor and Associate Professor of Medicine and Infectious Disease at Yale’s School of Medicine Onyema Ogbuagu, for instance, was part of the Pfizer research team that developed the first successful COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.
Two-thirds of Nigerian-Americans (a higher percentage than any other immigrant group in the United States) hold college and graduate degrees and lead their fields as professors, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and entrepreneurs, among other professions. Yes, there are some elements from the more than 200 million Nigerians whose engagement with internet scam has brought the country a fraud notoriety.
Even though the rest of the population suffer the indignity that the infamy and the stereotype of the criminal activities of a few of their compatriots bring the entire country, they acknowledge that the majority of Nigerians are honest and hardworking individuals.
Wamara Mwine: We are in an interesting and monumental time with this transition at the White House. President Elect Joe Biden, who I have met on a number of occasions, is facing some real challenges that can't just be solved in the confines of the White House or Federal Government. Do you imagine collaborating with this administration? If so, then how?
Fr. Chijioke Azuawusiefe: It is flattering to think of myself collaborating with the Biden administration, more so, now that I am done with my studies in the United States and have returned to Nigeria. But everything is possible. Yes, I imagine myself collaborating with the administration, if that ever becomes possible.
Biden, who comes from a working-class Catholic family and will become the second Catholic to hold the office of President of the Unites States of America, understands the central place of the Catholic Social Teaching (CST) in upholding the dignity of the individual. I will be glad to collaborate with his administration towards working for and promoting the dignity of the human person, especially the poor and those marginalized on account of their color, faith, gender, sexuality, and politics.
At the moment, the Nigerian government is muzzling the #EndSARS protesters who dared to peacefully protest police brutality and bad governance in the country. Some of these young people have been in police detention since October 2020 and some others have had their bank accounts frozen by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
It would be rewarding to collaborate with the Biden administration toward putting an end to such an infringement which not only violates the human dignity of the protesters but also interferes with their right to participate in the politics of their country, as urged by the CST.
I will be glad to collaborate with his administration towards working for and promoting the dignity of the human person, especially the poor and those marginalized on account of their color, faith, gender, sexuality, and politics.
Wamara Mwine: My Mom, Patience Sabiti MSW, came from a very religious background. In fact, her Dad and my Grandfather Most Reverand Erica Sabiti, was responsible for all of East Africa. Mom taught sociology at the University of Nairobi during the 80's. You attended Theology school at the Catholic University of East Africa [n Nairobi. What was your experience there and your thoughts on Kenya, the place where President Obama originated from?
Fr. Chijioke Azuawusiefe: Yes, I did my theology studies in Nairobi at the Jesuit HekimaCollege (now HekimaUniversity College), a constituent institution of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. I have great memories of my time in Nairobi. The people were warm, welcoming, and generous—dispositions which made it possible for me to access the people’s communal and cultural spaces for the practical applications of the basic classroom theological concepts.
Nairobi is also the melting pot of Eastern Africa; so, part of the blessings of doing theology in Nairobi is benefitting from the vast cross pollination of ideas, cultures, and peoples that it offers. I left Nairobi at the end of my studies in the city more enriched and with a heart filled with gratitude.